Big in Japan: Why 30 is the new 20

Love it or hate it, the HBO series Sex and the City was a global phenomenon that redefined cultural stereotypes of single women in their 30s.

From 1998 to 2003, millions of viewers the world over tuned it for the latest exploits of Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, who challenged the notion that single life for older women was anything other than fabulous and fun.

While American audiences needed a bit of persuasion to admit that 30 was perhaps the new 20, Japanese women were quick to embrace the notion of aging gracefully outside the restrictive confines of marriage.

Indeed, there’s even a new word to describe a fashionable and sophisticated single woman in her thirties, namely arasa (????????????), which is short for aranundo sati, the Japanese pronunciation for ‘around thirty.’

While Japanese government bureaucrats – the vast majority of whom are male – are scrambling to solve the problem of Japan’s declining birth rate and aging population, Japanese women are increasingly embracing the freedom of unmarried life.

In fact, they’re currently being targeted by some of Japan’s most prominent brand name stores and boutiques, which are slowly realizing that older women have much more purchasing power than fickle teeny-boppers.

If you happen to be ‘aranudo sati,’ keep on reading for more info…

It wasn’t too long ago in Japan that turning 25 was something of a death-sentence for unmarried women.

Believe it or not, unmarried women in their late 20s and early 30s were once commonly referred to as Christmas cakes (クリスマスケーキ, kurisumasukekki). Since you tend to throw away uneaten Christmas cakes after December 25th, the sick punch line is that unmarried women beyond the age of 25 have little value to society.

Wow. That’s harsh…

Of course, all of this is changing, especially since sexy older women are now gracing the covers of Japanese fashion magazines that were once reserved exclusively for teenage models. Stores and boutiques in fashionable neighborhoods such as Ginza and Ometesandou in Tokyo are increasingly shunning younger shoppers, preferring to market exclusively to the padded wallets of older, single women.

While Japanese men will certainly have to face the reality of declining marriage prospects, Japanese women seem to be embracing the personal and financial power and freedom that comes with being financially stable and single.

Arasa women have even coined their own word for mature sexiness, namely otona-gyaru (大人ギャル, grown-up gal), which signifies the transformation from Harajuku and Shibuya-themed youth fashion to the fabulous world of single adulthood.

Of course, not everyone is happy with the latest consumer trend sweeping across the country. On the contrary, Japan’s declining birthrate and aging population is a serious issue that is threatening to collapse one of the world’s most powerful economies.

However, while politicians in Tokyo’s Diet argue and bicker about the best course of action for convincing women to settle down, arasa are breaking with tradition, and flexing their growing consumer might.

Perhaps Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda had it right all along – 30 really is the new 20.